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Yaluk LangaIndigenous Landscape


The Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people hold an important cultural association to the Birrarung/Yarra River. The Heide grounds and surrounding areas are central to the traditional homelands of their Wurundjeri willam ancestors and creation beliefs. Yaluk Langa (‘River’s Edge’ in Woi-wurrung language) is a collaborative indigenous landscape project developed between Traditional Owners and the Heide team. Yaluk Langa provides opportunities for Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people to achieve their responsibilities in caring for Country, what is known as Bunjil’s Law, and to highlight their living culture.

The river’s edge of the Heide site has a different character to the rest of the museum’s gardens. In 1934, a year of record floods in Melbourne, indigenous seed borne by the floodwaters self-sowed in this area, eventually resulting in vegetation that contrasted with the highly managed exotic gardens planted by Heide founders John and Sunday Reed. In the 1960s, prompted by a broader environmental awakening and by his observations of the changed nature of this section of Heide, John Reed decided to preserve and rehabilitate as much as possible of the river frontage. Hoping to restore a sense of the pre-colonial environment, he researched and planted indigenous species endemic to this part of the river valley, with some of his plantings remaining today.

Yaluk Langa has become a vital and evolving chapter in the Heide story, transforming our relationship with our Traditional Owners and with the land and waters on which the museum is located. Funding from the Albert and Barbara Tucker Foundation in 2018-20 provided the means to undertake essential weeding and revegetation work along the river’s edge and the development of a Concept Design Framework led by Urban Initiatives Landscape Architects in consultation with Elders  including Uncle Dave Wandin and Uncle Bill Nicholson Jnr, Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, community members and Heide staff.

photograph: Clytie Meredith

During the consultation process the Heide team learned about the significance of the integrated billabong and river system in the wider Bulleen-Banyule Flats area. We were privileged to be given access by Wurundjeri Corporation to a Cultural Values Study for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) (see overview here), which details First People’s historic and contemporary use and custodianship of the flats and surrounding land. The study determined that present day Heidelberg and Bulleen is a cultural landscape shaped and constructed across millennia through Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung occupation, land management, and social and cultural practice. This deepened our understanding and appreciation of the vital significance of the Birrarung/Yarra River and its landscape for First Peoples, and the role we can all play in Caring for Country.

The Yaluk Langa Concept Design Framework sets out Heide’s plans to protect, rehabilitate and transform a 10,000 square metre area across the museum’s entire river frontage into five experiential zones, including a dense bushland, ephemeral wetlands, grasslands, a gathering space, and a reconciliation garden. The implementation of the Design Framework in the coming years will create an accessible and culturally safe space for Wurundjeri, First Peoples and the broader community for learning, ceremony, cultural knowledge sharing, storytelling and reconciliation. Work is already well underway on revegetation works, with the Heide gardeners assisted by the Friends of Yaluk Langa volunteer group, following a land management plan developed in consultation with the Wurundjeri Narrap Unit (Natural Resources Management team).

photograph: Clytie Meredith

photograph: Clytie Meredith

photograph: Clytie Meredith

Contemporary scar trees

Another culturally significant milestone in the Yaluk Langa journey has been the ceremonial scarring of three trees by Wurundjeri Elders and artists from the Narrap Rangers team. Taking place over a number of sessions from 2022 to 2023, with some delays due to the flooding of the Birrarung in late 2022, the tree scarring was an important opportunity for the practice of traditional culture on Country, and the intergenerational transfer of knowledge, skills and stories. Three trees were selected by Elders for scarring, to represent the three surviving families of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung people.

Once the bark was removed from each tree, it was cured over a fire and later decorated by Narrap Rangers Ash Firebrace, Mark Gardiner, Damien Nicholson, Eddie Mullins and Jamie McFadyen under the guidance of their Elders Sean Hunter, Uncle Bill Nicholson Jnr and Uncle Dave Wandin and in collaboration with one another. Their designs were based on stories, totems and cultural practices significant to them and to the Country surrounding Yaluk Langa. The trees now stand as artworks and cultural signifiers in their own right, as well as signalling to visitors that Heide is a welcoming and culturally safe place for First Nations people. The bark shields are on display in the Wurundjeri classroom at the University of Melbourne, where they can be utilised in education programs delivered by Uncle Bill.

The scar trees project was made possible through a grant from Manningham City Council and Spark, the builder of the North East Link Tunnels.

Watch Wurundjeri Elder Uncle Bill Nicholson Jr talk about the importance of the tree scarring ceremony held at Heide.

Watch Wurundjeri Elder Uncle Dave Wandin talk about the interplay or ecology and culture.

A ceremonial gathering and learning space

In 2024, Heide is working with the Wurundjeri community to create a ceremonial gathering and learning space at Yaluk Langa. The site selected by Wurundjeri Elders forms a natural amphitheatre in a flood basin, where smoke from ceremonies will be seen from the sky by Bunjil. Programs and events will be scheduled with the natural rhythms of the river. The gathering space will be a place for the Wurundjeri community to practice culture, including performing traditional ceremonies and hosting events. It will also enable the delivery of First Nations educational activities and cultural experiences on Wurundjeri Country for community groups and schools.

Designed to work with the natural contours of the landscape, the intention is to bring a very light touch, with a simple paved area of pink mudstone for dancing and ceremony, mudstone boulders for sitting and railways sleepers and gravel pathways to make the area more accessible. Plantings will be selected under the guidance of Wurundjeri Elders Uncle Dave Wandin and Uncle Bill Nicholson Jr, together with the Wurundjeri Narrap rangers. This project received funding from the Victorian Government through the North East Community Fund and from The Shine On Foundation, with support from Spark, the builder of the North East Link Tunnels. The Yaluk Langa gathering space will be an enduring community cultural facility for future generations.

Research is also underway for an interpretation plan for Yaluk Langa, including the creation of signage and co-designed school and community programs, with more exciting developments to come.

Project support

In kind support

photograph: Clytie Meredith